Archive for the 'General Musings' Category

2017 Year in Review

Winding down another eventful year, our first properly living back in the U.S. in some time (1999 for Kirstin!). There’s no denying 2017 had challenges, but we’ve had plenty of adventures and good times, and enter the new year sanguine about the opportunities in the coming year.

The boys left an idyllic situation in Mexico: accepted and beloved at their school; a wonderful nanny and circle of friends; and regular outings in and around Mexico on a weekly basis. They are hitting their groove now at their new school, but it’s taken time. After four years I frankly forgot how much we’re asking of them with each move, this devil’s bargain of rationalizing it’ll all be worth it in the long run.

My transition has been candidly tough as well. After feeling a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day by the end in Mexico, I spent my first months in DC feeling uneasy. Totally expected given a new job and new city, but for a hyper-type A like myself, no bueno. But much like the Monty Python peasant, I got better.

Amid all this, Kirstin has managed to be our rock, quietly enduring a rotating series of tantrums from her three boys while plugging away steadily at the transition.

With my usual wordy prologue out of the way, now to the updates. I currently work on “the Line,” which has the reputation of attracting folks who are smart, clever, and able to have fun with things. That’s very much been my experience. It’s also nirvana for grammar nerds; I’m decidedly average in catching errors among this group.

Of course I continue to have concerns. But I took this job to 1) read and get smarter on policy issues, 2) learn the bureaucracy that is “main state”, 3) travel, ideally to some places I’d otherwise never go, and 4) have an opportunity to influence, in whatever small way, our approach to foreign policy. And the job has thus far delivered in spades, even if the ratio isn’t what I’d envisioned. I’m writing part of this from Ottawa (after London, Kabul, and Khartoum trips). Whatever gripes I have, I try to remember how lucky I am to be in this position in the first place.

I want to give a special shout out to the back porch, our cubicled alcove of misfits with whom I’ve spent many hours giggling. They put up well with my usual stream of puns and non sequitors.

Kirstin, as noted, has generously focused on getting the family adjusted since we moved, a decided drop in stature from head of Chemistry at an elite international school. As she starts the new year though, she’ll be working as a volunteer “Insect Ambassador” at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, giving mini-lessons on the various creepies and crawlies. If you ever wondered who shows off the tarantulas and butterflies there, it’s overqualified souls whose life circumstances mean they have the time and inclination to educate capital visitors pro bono.

Ruben is almost 5’4″ and not quite 11 yet, and Kirstin and he can now share shoes. He is benefitting greatly from the well-structured youth sports programs in Falls Church: demonstrably more comfortable in soccer and basketball, and I can see a couple of years of this is going to do wonders for his coordination and confidence. He remains a map fanatic, and overjoyed to share whatever random sports or geography trivia he stumbles across. And, true to his word, Ruben has started guitar, after three years of piano, and sticking to it with his usual tenacity.

Ruben says: Moving was hard but exciting.I made many new friends. My close friend moved away. I am [well had in the future] having fun in Charleston South Carolina.

Rohan is crushing it academically and nevertheless struggling socially. It’s sad how we can reflect on childhood insecurities, laugh at how trivial they were, and yet do nothing to assuage the fears of the next generation. That said, he’s slowly making friends and getting comfortable at school. He’s continued in piano and willing to start martial arts in the new year to scratch his “constantly moving/abhors competitive sports” itch. He continues to read during any (minecraft) free moment, and to enjoy cooking, though primarily if meat or desserts are involved.

Rohan says: I LOVED this christmas. I opened one present on christmas eve and it was AWESOME.

I get to listen to lots of great podcasts on my commute and during runs. Including those with my favorite reads for posterity’s sake:

Version Control— really fun and engaging sci fi read.

99% Invisible– broadly on design, they cover a wide range of interesting stories. One highlight was Lance Wyman’s work on the Mexico City 1968 Olympics signboards.

Revisionist History– Malcolm Gladwell in spoken form. Most educational for me was on Churchill and WWII.

Standard Deviation— modern fiction, particularly resonant for parents with smart but unique kids. Not about math.

More Perfect– on notable supreme court cases, but in a decidedly palatable (radiolab) style way. Had no idea about the origins of the NRA and relatively recent shift on 2nd amendment politics.

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Our travel highlight this year was Machu Pichu, which deservedly got its own post.

Some other photos and highlights:

We finished this year with a mega-family reunion in Charleston, South Carolina, with both sides of the extended family enjoying the charm and (relative) winter warmth of the South. Our best wishes to you and yours for the coming year. Anand, Kirstin, Ruben, and Rohan.

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Peru–April 2017

Just returned from an amazing trip to Peru, highlighted by a five day trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu– 45 kilometers, three nights in a tent, and incredible views. Highly recommended.

Worth noting– I hate camping. I enjoy hiking, and love physical challenges, but I strongly prefer ending them with a hot shower and a bed. So when Kirstin came back from book club a few years ago and said “we should hike the inca trail with the boys when they are old enough”, my first response was like with unwanted work– ignore it and hope it goes away. But, a guiding principle of my parenting is that I want the boys to be more well-rounded than me, so in the end I was a willing, albeit reluctant and slightly grumpy participant. That I caught a cold the night before we departed didn’t help, but then again, it’s much nicer to be draining out in nature than in an office.

Ruben says: It was not to hard but not to easy.The second day was supposed to be the most challenging but it wasn’t to hard[for me at least] .Over all the inca trail was a little easier easier than I expected but still difficult.It was very fun especially with our guide.I enjoyed seeing the amazing nature and climbing to 14,000ft or 4200m.

Rohan says: I enjoyed The inca trail, although I did complain, I recommend to you.

Back to dad. I can’t say enough about the food. Expecting something warm and basic, instead every meal was multi-course and super-high quality. It’s arguably the best I’ve ever eaten. Our chef apparently has won awards, so I can’t say if it would be same for other expeditions. I foolishly strayed once from his food, trying chicha (corn drink) en route with the porters, which gave me a “Yobogoya” moment. I don’t recommend that.

There are several options for seeing Machu Pichu, including trains directly to Aguascalientes followed by a short (but windy and bumpy) bus ride. From there you can see the ruins as well as do short hikes, or sign up ahead of time for one or two day hikes. To do the full inca trail hike (normally four days, but can be five if you want the flexibility to go slowly/endure meltdowns, as we did), you need to sign up several months ahead. But you just carry day packs while you have a team to carry tents, food, etc. Quite manageable if you can handle the distance and elevation. Plan accordingly and ping us if you want more specific details.

2015 Year in Review

Yet another long hiatus but we’re back. Nothing amusingly life threatening like last time; just the start of a new year and I’m for once in the mood to write.

2015 has been an excellent year for the clan. We continue to be in Mexico City, now for an additional two years as I was able to secure a second posting here. My work now is similar to what I was doing in Chennai, working on press and social media for the Embassy. I’m still enjoying the foreign service life, have a great group of co-workers, and feel like I’m doing “meaningful” work. I continue to feel exceedingly lucky that I get to do this.

Kirstin has been teaching at a British International School here (Greengates), and this year they made her head of the Chemistry department. I’m pleased that she’s getting some opportunities to advance at work, which she’s otherwise sacrificed for my career pursuits. The boys go to the school as well, and are still at the age where it’s cool to have mom at school. They’ve all adopted some Britishisms (Kirstin marks papers and invigilates; Rohan tells us to carry on), which amuses me to no end. It also gives me a chance to ask the boys if their teachers talk like this– and then do Monty Python accents– which blows their mind that dad can change accents (badly) the way my mind was blown by Hans Gruber so many years ago.

K has also had a running resurgence, knocking out two half marathons this year and finishing third in the foreign ministry 10k in April. She probably spends too much time worrying about how fast she used to be (who doesn’t?), and she has to be mindful of tendinitis and mileage, but overall she’s crushing it. Plus, we have a good group here that runs nearby trails at a national park (Desierto) on Saturday mornings, which makes for a great start to weekends. Credit to Hugo, the great motivator.

Ruben turns nine soon (!!). More than anything, he’s nice. That’s the comment we get consistently from teachers and friends, and K and I regularly wonder where that came from. He’s also lanky and awkward like K and I were (are?), but what he lacks in coordination he makes up for in enthusiasm. He gets along well with others, continues to love maps and cars, and sometimes watching/playing sports with dad. He’s also doing well at rock climbing classes with his ideal height to weight ratio of infinity…

Rohan has rounded out nicely as an almost seven year old. He’s a reading machine, enjoys playing with his big bro (about 80% of the time) and is thriving in his swimming classes. He’s lanky by most measures, except when compared to Ruben, and enjoys roughhousing with me until I pull my patented “lie on top of him and stifle all movement” as I did with my friends in my youth. Having kids has gotten even more fun in a purely selfish sense as I get to do things or have an excuse to do things I used to enjoy, under the guise of engaging the kids, including watching sports, playing video games and eating too much pizza. They are enablers.

In social news we got the proverbial band back together. Or rather, we’re at a big Embassy, and our guitarist/spirit animal rightly noted it was a shame there was no Embassy band. So a few months and several practices later, Duck and Cover has three shows under our belt. For those who don’t know, I’ve sang in garage bands periodically through the years, beginning in college, as well as countless nights of karaoke in Japan. As far as the band, it’s all covers as the name implies, and there’s some real talent in the group. For me it’s been humbling as I now understand the realities of “old guy” voice. I’ve lost my top tenor notes from youth and have to constantly pace myself so I don’t sing myself hoarse (as you can hear in the clip below). It’s also weird not being the loud one in the group (ahem, Staci) but nevertheless it’s super-cool to be doing something musical and creative again. Big props to Eric for making this all happen. And as far as the clip, it’s a classic song I last did in my college band in 1995 (Noise Complaint!). Frankly I sound far worse now, but at least I learned to do the harmonica part passably in Yeary’s absence.

Mexico City, as we’ve nagged before, is a hidden gem. Our doors are open through summer 2017 for anyone interested in visiting. Wishing everyone great things in 2016. Anand, Kirstin, Ruben and Rohan

2015 family in yellowstone

 

Music and Rohanisms

I put the boys to bed most nights, singing to them during their bath and teethbrushing. It’s a chance for me to indoctrinate them with my favorites*, an eclectic mix of 60’s croons, 80’s alternative, a dash of showtunes and whatever else comes to mind (including, for a spell, the national anthem). The boys have really taken to it, singing along (sort of) and requesting their favorites.

*Many of my non-Indian friends have been similarly tricked, asking me to order when we go to Indian restaurants, and only later discovering, that rather than ordering a representative spread, I was simply ordering my favorites. Heh.

Ruben is old enough now to try to sing background vocals, usually rhythmlessly but with gusto. He’ll belt out “duke of earl” or “you can dance” (save the last dance for me) ad nauseum, or at least ad he’s blue in the face. Here’s one of Ruben’s favorites, an obscure late 80’s alternative song, set to an unrelated random video that checks another Ruben box: Pure by The Lightning Seeds.

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Rohan is a source of regular amusement with his impressive but unpolished verbal skills. A sampling:

(Hearing Cooper barking in the courtyard)– I see Cooper!

(Doing his U.S. States map, which announces states quietly as you click on them)–Lichigan! Alagama!! Alaigee!!!

(Proud of his Thomas the train shirt)–My shirt is made of Thomas!

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A book recommendation, particularly for my TamBram Indian-American cohort with Chennai roots– “Tamarind City” by Bishwanath Ghosh. He covers a lot of the history of Chennai, from all the poorly maintained British and other historical relics in the city, to the traditional Iyer and Iyengar regions of Chennai, and other interesting people and stories in the city. I’ve spent plenty of time in Chennai (prior to living here) but there are lots of backstories I simply never learned, either because no one talks about it, or I wasn’t paying attention. Anyway, Ghosh writes about it from a newcomer and outsider’s perspective, as kind of a travelogue, so it’s both engaging and informative.

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I recently attended a lecture on linguistic similarities between Tamil and Japanese. I’d made this argument when studying Japanese many moons ago, so it was nice to hear there is some actual scholarship backing my claims. I learned much like koko/soko/asoko/doko, Tamil used to have that second form of “there”, meaning not near the listener, but rather “way over there”, like out of sight, just as Japanese does. They are both SOV (verb at the end) languages, the base vowel sounds (a, i, u, e, o) are the same, though Tamil has short and long, and one of the ancient Tamil verse meters is 57577, which, shortened, is haiku.

I’m sure some of these are a stretch but it’s a neat set of linkages.

 

 

Our “native” place

India is all about where you’re from. Since I have roots here, saying I’m from the U.S./America/California/SouthernCalifornia/nearDisneyland is rarely enough. Instead, I usually get “where you are basically from?” in some variant until I affirm my Indian roots. There are times when I try to emphasize my American-ness (so I don’t get the “when is the American officer coming” look), but most of the time I’m happy to acknowledge Tamil Nadu as my native place. Quite frankly it would be dumb not to use such a stellar icebreaker.

Conveniently, my parents’ native villages are located in a district I was slated to visit for work this year. Neither of my parents lived in these villages, but roots are roots, even if generations have passed. So I did a couple of days of media contact and outreach, and then had my family join me for the weekend to visit the homeland. I’m really happy K and the kids were able to see the villages, and that my parents were with us to explain everything. I continue to feel exceedingly lucky about this posting and all the perks it has afforded us.

Visiting Gangaikondan (my dad’s village) first, we stopped by the main temple. On our last visit, in 1995, the temple was basically abandoned, but a helpful local girl guided us through some of the chambers. We entered one and it was straight out of Indiana Jones (sans monkey brains), as we were greeted by hundreds of bats swooping berzerkedly through the room. As my sister and I cringed in fear, the girl looked at us incredulously–“you’re afraid of bats?”

I had hoped to leave a better impression this time. We walked into the temple, now renovated and more or less operational. It’s on a large ground, so there are temple chambers but also untended land within the perimeter. After a few minutes walking inside, Ruben announces in a panic, “I have to go poo poo. Now.” We look around helplessly, and ask the locals for options. They all point to the untended land, full of bushes and brush and who knows what else. K grimaces– in a temple? Is that even allowed? But Ruben clearly was having issues, so my mom (what a star!) marched him out to the bushes and facilitated the deed. As a cadre of villagers watched, I thought, so much for impressing the locals, unless they appreciate the seamless transition from consecrate to desecrate. Or defecate, as it were. Sigh.

On the other hand, there were still bats, and I stood bravely without flinching, so at least I have that going for me.

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Our visit to the two villages and a local waterfall/getaway place was chronicled in Kardashian-like fashion by a local Tamil newspaper and WebTV interview. I’m surprised my ever-expanding head fit in the pictures.

And the video (apologies to Savitri Aunty for my Tamil): Dinamalar WebTV spot

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Other, unrelated notes: on a drive recently, Ruben started asking questions about dinosaurs (where’d they go, what’s “extinct”?, etc.). Upon asking what they eat, Rohan eagerly jumped in, with the usual two-year old staccato (you can tell they have something to say, and they’re working super hard to formulate the words, but it ends up coming out with pregnant pauses after each word). “DINOSAURS…EAT…lunch. Mockery aside, Rohan is actually pretty verbal, though only fast when irritated (“I don’t like that”).

Ruben, joining the phonics fiesta, just asked us “what’s puhdahf?” Eh? And he shows us: pdf. Reminds me of Manik’s friend who thought North Carolina’s leading grocery store was K-Roger…

A disjointed review of 2011

If you missed part one of this dramatic saga, please click here

All is reasonably well on the home front. To the extent I don’t feel 100%, I can’t differentiate between illness and awareness of illness. Also, it turns out K did have dengue first, and while she suffered through fevers, and had the telltale rash, she wasn’t knocked out the way I was. Then again, her immune system tends to be better than my Faud-like entity (and she didn’t test positive for malaria). But as a result, I’m a bit less inclined to limp around when I see a fellow “dengoid” zipping along with daily tasks.

Coincidentally, I was finishing “the Emperor of All Maladies”, a book about cancer, during this recent saga, which likely hasn’t helped with any speculations about illness. It’s otherwise a great book, written for the layperson (or the former science major decades removed from his ineffectual studies).

Wisely, I’m shifting away from the terminal illness genre, now taking it easy with the last dragon tattoo book (print) and one on the “greatest game ever played”, Duke-Kentucky 1992 (on the ipad, when I can wrestle it away from Rohan).

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Speaking of the ipad, Rohan (age 2.5) is fluent with the touchscreen and swiping, cruising through his letter and matching apps with ease. He’s currently tapping at my 2010 100Gb laptop screen without effect and looking at me like I’m some sort of dinosaur.

Of course I’m able to operate the ipad without leaving behind disgusting puddles of drool on it, so I maintain some semblance of superiority for now.

Mr. Ruben, soon to be five years old (!!), is on a big boy trip with his patti and tha tha to Coimbatore to visit some relatives. He’s away for a week, which is the longest he’s been separated from his bro. Rohan is definitely feeling the effect, asking plaintively “where’s Ruby”, since he has no one around to irritate and then beat on when he gets mad. Older brothers are handy for such pastimes. Ruben is otherwise impossibly lanky, and spends much of his time building increasingly elaborate structures for his cars and trains to navigate.

K just enjoyed a week of revelry here with four good college friends. As we didn’t see them in Japan or Germany, their visit was a pleasant surprise (he noted, subtly jabbing at his friends). Other than minor stomach issues the gang passed their India test with flying colors. Actually, given their hosts’ dengoid dealings, the visitors were comparative pillars of health.

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We enter 2012 with anticipation. We are due to rotate later in the year, moving first to DC for training, and then to Mexico City for my next assignment. One of my reasons for wanting to join the foreign service was the prospect of moving every few years. Given I’d started feeling stale after a few years in each preceding job, I was attracted to a built-in mechanism for rejuvenation. As our first shift approaches I can see departure timings won’t always coincide with personal readiness to depart, but I do like that the looming departure gives me additional incentive to get some things done that would otherwise languish in the proverbial “pending” file.

K, after doing full-time parenting (in a place decidedly more challenging than my idyllic stint in Heidelberg), is ready to work again. We are hopeful teaching positions will open up for her in Mexico.

Ruben is looking at kindergarten this fall, which seems impossible when I watch videos like this. And Rohan will have to adjust to not being completely doted over, as he is by family, friends, staff and strangers alike here in India. Lots of fun in store for all of us.

Photo and video time:

1. First, here’s a snapshot of some of the things we did in 2011: 2011 Krishna family slideshow.

2. On the work side, some of the the cool programs we did in South India the last year. If you look closely you’ll see it wasn’t just Ruben who got close to the Secretary: Consulate Chennai Highlights of 2011

3. And finally one video about a project that nicely connected my former work in academia with what I do now, promoting mutual understanding and exchange between the U.S. and other countries: International Education Week Video

Mosquitoes 2, AK 0

Given my penchant for both illnesses and mosquito bites, and having lived in India over a year, I was fully expecting an undesirable diagnosis, but not like this: “So you don’t have malaria or dengue…you have malaria AND dengue!”*

Curiously, I’ve felt better ever since. I’d been bedridden for 36 hours, with a severe headache and delusional (sadly, I didn’t write down any of my semi-lucid ideas, but they seemed really great at the time). Recovered from that, and awaiting blood test results, I’d spent the day at work, not feeling “right” but actually quite functional (if watching clips of the comedy troupe we’d brought over counts as work). In a comparative sense I felt great…like the proverbial hand feels after you stop hitting it with a hammer.

When I heard the diagnosis, I felt a release. “Two diseases and that’s the worst of it? That wasn’t so bad.” Granted, who knows how it will ebb and flow. I started the malaria treatment and my stomach isn’t great. But really, in my world that’s par for the course.

* I’ve taken artistic license with the diagnosis conversation, since it’s much funnier for a medical professional to reveal it this way, not that they ever would. The actual conversation centered more on how and why I was at work.

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As far as mosquitoes, we continue to have a love-hate relationship. They love me; I hate them. Rohan, unfortunately, seems equally attractive and allergic (swelling up and scratching incessantly). Ruben seems to have escaped this fate, thank goodness. The worst part though– my inclination (as with Shirish and finger pokes) would be to say “bite away vile creatures; what more can you give me?”. But of course, the jerks can take from me and infect the rest of the house, so long pants and socks continue as my mismatched tropical attire.

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Yes, like a lurking disease, this blog has lain dormant for a couple of years. Those new to the page should note, I used to post regularly about the boys, including pics and videos, and occasionally spun good yarns like this. But as with many things, when it started feeling like work, I stopped. Not foolish enough to promise anything regular just yet, but I may as well write a bit now since I’ve been ordered to “rest”.

In a nutshell, I joined the foreign service in 2010, we moved to Chennai in 2011, and infectious diseases aside, am really enjoying it. I work in our public affairs section liaising with press and media in South India. I get to work on cool projects on education, senior visitors, and other topics of direct personal interest.

There are lots of jobs where people joke “I can’t believe they pay me to do this”. In my case, I’m tasked to read several newspapers every morning and otherwise scour the net for relevant news; I do lots of writing and editing, including ample opportunity for puns; I sometimes speak with authority and answer questions in front of crowds (regardless of actual expertise); and I get to travel regularly and meet interesting people and learn about different cultures, both for work and on holiday. I leave it to you, dear reader(s) to decide if the shoe fits.

I owe a post on K’s adventures here and of course our eponymous bloggers themselves. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another two years and a viral trifecta to generate that…

1/14– Here’s part 2 and the 2011 Summary